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Home » Vayishlach

Vayishlach: Getting Involved

Submitted by on November 25, 2009 – 9:41 pmNo Comment | 2,583 views

It’s a Different World

The world is not what it used to be. Children used to respect their elders. People used to wear respectable clothes. Neighborhoods used to be safe heavens. Clergymen used to be regarded as virtuous. Today, everything is different; the social fabric has changed.

Today no one talks to you, instead they text. If they do talk, it’s on the cell phone; recklessly sharing private tidbits in public. And in language that makes many of us blush. Lack of decorum is in vogue; tattered rags stand in for fashion, distinguished men dress in pink and satanic mascara is normal among teenagers.

Yes, we mutter as the world passes us by, this is a new world and not one I want any part of.

But is this the right attitude?

Reaching Out

Jacob left home and traveled to Haran. Was Jacob comfortable in Haran? I imagine the pious, scholarly and sensitive Jacob was less comfortable among the deceitful Idolatrous Haraners than we, relics of a social past, are among the youth of today. Still, what did Jacob do while in Haran? He did not hide from the Haraners nor did he cringe when he met them. He engaged them, lived with them and established a home among them. (1)

It was in Haran that Jacob married his wives and established his family. It was in Haran that Jacob tended to Laban’s cattle and interacted with fellow shepherds at the well. Jacob met people, who dressed, talked and behaved like aliens as far as he was concerned, but he did not shun them. He challenged himself to view them as fellow humans and found common ground with them.

While in Haran, Jacob made a difference. getting involved - innerstreamBy the time he departed he had transformed the landscape; even Laban, the wretched thief, was uplifted through his interaction with Jacob. It took a long time to change Laban, but change him, he did. It was during their final interaction on the mountain that Laban finally learned to act like a father. He learned to love and respect. He learned to broker an honest agreement. He learned to become a mentch.

What would Haran have looked like had Jacob cringed and kept to himself? Further, what would Jacob have to show for himself if he had spent his entire sojourn in isolation? Thankfully, we don’t need to answer that question because Jacob chose to engage.


Jacob had put off reconciliation with Esau for twenty-two years, but upon his return to Israel he could delay no further. For many reasons Jacob was unable to travel to Seir, where his brother lived. But Jacob was not deterred; if he could not go himself he would send emissaries. (2)

The emissaries returned with terrible news. Esau refused Jacob’s olive branch and chose to declare war instead. Jacob responded by sending an extremely generous gift to Esau. It was a gesture of goodwill; one of brotherhood. (3)

Why did Jacob bother? The answer is evident in the Torah’s description of Esau. “And Jacob sent emissaries to Esau, his brother.” This was Esau, the uncouth, despicable and morally corrupt Esau. But this was also his brother. Jacob and Esau were as different as two men could possibly be, but Jacob never allowed such considerations to stand in his way. So far as Jacob was concerned, Esau was his brother.

Esau responded positively to Jacob’s gesture. It is nearly impossible to retain an egregiously cynical posture when faced with acceptance and brotherly love. To be sure, Jacob never condoned Esau’s way of life, but neither did he reject him as a person. To Jacob, Esau was a brother.

In many ways we are Jacob’s emissaries; appointed by G-d to reach out to our brothers and sisters and remind them that we are a family. Bound by our common ancestry and heritage, we belong at our father’s table. Studying his Torah together and observing his commandments in unison; our souls bound as one.

But this is not always easy. We each have people whose mannerisms, values or lifestyle we despise. We are tempted to turn our backs and live our own life. Live and let live, goes the popular maxim. But, we all know that this maxim is just an excuse to avoid reaching out; it allows us to tuck ourselves in our own cocoon of comfort.

Is it truly sufficient to build an enclave of normalcy while ostracizing our brethren? As Jacob said of Esau, these people are our brothers! We must remember that when it is cold there are two possible solutions. One is to pull our coat tighter, the second is to light a fire. The former provides warmth for us, the latter, for all. When you stand among your brethren don’t protect yourself with a warm coat; reach out and stop turning your back. It is time to engage; the more difficult s/he is to countenance, the greater the reason to engage.

Eternal Life

The Torah never employed the term death in describing the passing of Jacob. The Talmud suggests that indeed Jacob never died; though the person passed away, his ideas live on. The torch of brotherly love has been passed down, through the generations, to us. As the Talmud puts it, “So long as his children live, Jacob lives.” (4)

So long as we, Jacob’s children, harbor love for each other and regard each other as a single unit, Jacob remains alive; his ideals live and pulsate within our hearts. If we learn to love, then Jacob continues to live. If his children remain a family, then he remains our father. (5)


  1. Genesis chapters 28-31
  2. Genesis chapters 32 and 33.
  3. Jacob was not completely reckless; he knew his family was in danger so he first took the steps of setting up a defensive perimeter for his family and then offered up a heartfelt prayer.
  4. Babylonian Talmud, Taanit: 5b.
  5. This essay is loosely based on a talk given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Kislev 17, 5748.